Aggressive Meyer Not Afraid to Change Culture at OSU
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Earle Bruce may have kicked something in the press box. Jim Tressel would have been nauseous, but Urban Meyer didn’t even flinch.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With Ohio State facing a 4th-and-1 at midfield early in the second quarter, Meyer quickly, and shamelessly, sent his offense back onto the field. It didn’t matter to him the Buckeyes had failed to convert a 4th-and-1 on their own side of the field late in the first quarter.
That wasn’t going to deter Ohio State’s new football coach from being aggressive, even daring, in the same coliseum where Woody Hayes once frustrated, and enchanted, fans with his “three yards and a cloud of dust” style of play.
“I’m trying to push the buttons to make us a good team,” Meyer said after Ohio State’s 31-16 win over Central Florida Saturday.
“Midfield, you should be able to, on 4th-and-1, get a first down. We did it twice, and I think our offense knows we’re going to do it again.”
The first time, Meyer’s offense had stalled near midfield after a holding penalty set them up with a 1st-and-20 at the OSU 28 yard line. Freshman tailback Bri’onte Dunn got 13 back on a rush up the middle, but Miller’s third down scramble left the Buckeyes a yard short of the sticks at the 47-yard line.
Meyer quickly rolled the dice, calling another keeper for Miller on the right side behind Marcus Hall and Reid Fragel. Miller took a hit at the line of scrimmage and was spun down two feet short of the first down marker.
It could have been a game-changing momentum swing.
The Buckeyes led UCF just 7-0 at the time, and it put the OSU defense in a bad position – something Tressel refused to do, except for that one moment of panic against Meyer’s Florida Gators in the 2007 BCS Title game.
UCF tailback Storm Johnson took the next carry 11 yards, deep into Ohio State territory, but the Knights failed to convert on three chances inside the 10-yard line and ultimately had to settle for a field goal.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It was a risky decision by Meyer, but one Ohio State fans applauded after years of watching Tressel’s teams punt on fourth down from the opposing team’s side of the 50-yard line.
There were plenty of groans when Miller was stopped short of the marker, but fans were elated to see Meyer and his coaching staff going for it again, without hesitation, when the Buckeyes were faced with a 4th-and-1 at the 50-yard line in the second quarter.
“That's our mentality,” said offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, who Meyer hired away from Notre Dame this offseason.
“We're going to be aggressive. We're going to count on our offensive line, tight ends and backs to block.”
This time, Ohio State’s offensive line delivered – as tailback Carlos Hyde burst through up the middle for six yards to keep the drive moving. Corey Brown would bust off a 19-yard reverse and the Buckeyes ended up with the ball inside UCF’s 10-yard line before having to settle for a 24-yard field goal.
Had they not converted that second fourth-down try, however, the Buckeyes would have given UCF the ball at midfield in a 7-3 game. On the next drive, the Knights went 78 yards in five plays to tied the game at 10-10 on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Blake Bortles to tight end Justin Tukes.
This was still very much a ballgame when Meyer gambled on those two fourth-down plays near midfield, but that doesn’t mean he had a lot of debate with his offensive assistants on whether to go for it or punt the ball deep into UCF territory.
“Actually there was none,” Warinner said of any hesitation amongst the coaching staff about the decision not to send Ben Buchanan on to the field.
Part of that is Meyer’s insistence that a program like Ohio State should be able to gain one yard at will – whether that’s on the goal line just before halftime or at midfield on fourth down – even when the opposing teams knows exactly what’s coming and how.
“At some point, you have to do that when you’re a good team,” Meyer said Saturday.
“Which right now we’re not, but we’re working our tails off to become that very good team.”
The-Ozone’s Tony Gerdeman writes that it wasn’t just the offensive players who were excited about Meyer’s new culture of aggressiveness, but certainly they biggest benefactors of the new way of doing business in Columbus.
“Coach Tress, he was kind of just play it safe and win the game,” receiver Corey Brown said before the season-opener against Miami (Ohio).
“With Coach Meyer, (the goal) is to score 100 points and try to run up the score, and have a good time out there. Try to defeat our opponent's will.”
Even when the game was won, Meyer’s team never stopped trying to move the football. They got the ball back with 1:32 to play and ran it twice to backup tailback Rod Smith instead of taking a knee and running out the clock.
“I don’t think that’s really our style,” Warinner said when asked why they felt the need to run the football when UCF had only one timeout let.
“And I think getting Rod a carry was important, just to try to get him going. … We didn’t feel like the game was in jeopardy there.”
Good thing too, because Smith botched a handoff when his elbow knocked the ball out of Braxton Miller’s hands, giving it back to Central Florida with 41 seconds left in the game.
Of course Meyer’s not going to apologize for that either.
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